2017 Baseball Preview, Part II

Yesterday, I ranked the 100 players I expect the most out of in 2017. On this proper opening day, let’s take a look at how I see things shaking up, teamwise.  Let’s start with standings:

AL East W L GB
Red Sox 93 69
Blue Jays 87 75 6
Orioles 83 79 10
Yankees 82 80 11
Rays 80 82 13
AL Central W L GB
Cleveland 95 67
Tigers 80 82 15
Royals 73 89 22
Twins 71 91 24
White Sox 71 91 24
AL West W L GB
Astros 92 70
Mariners 85 77 7
Rangers 84 78 8
Angels 79 83 13
A’s 69 93 23
NL East W L GB
Nationals 95 67
Mets 89 73 6
Marlins 75 87 20
Phillies 74 88 21
Braves 72 90 23
NL Central W L GB
Cubs 100 62
Cardinals 82 80 18
Pirates 80 82 20
Brewers 67 95 33
Reds 67 95 33
NL West W L GB
Dodgers 96 66
Giants 90 72 6
Rockies 81 81 15
Diamondbacks 75 87 21
Padres 65 97 31

If you read 100 fans’ and pundits’ opinions, this year, you’re not going to see the type of variety you usually see, particularly in the NL.  Of course the Cubs are the best team in the NL Central, and probably better than the Nationals and the Dodgers.  Some contrarians will pick the Mets and their stellar rotation or the “team of the ’10s” Giants to win their respective divisions, but most win slot them in as Wild Cards, with perhaps a few Cardinals and Pirates peppered in.

Cleveland, Boston, and Houston are clearly the class of the AL, but there’s a little more uncertainty here.  Boston in recent years has gotten really good at loading their roster with hired guns and home-grown stars, while still thin enough that a few key injuries could be the difference between 95 wins and 70.  Houston has looked like the best team in the AL West for at least three years running, but the Rangers keep creeping up and stealing the division.  And the Mariners added some interesting depth pieces to a strong core.

It’s the AL Wild Card race that’s truly interesting.  I’ve got Toronto taking the first one, largely thanks to their pitching (Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are top-100 players), and Seattle taking the second despite their pitching (or at least questions about Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma at the front of the rotation).  Texas has a similarly strong front of the rotation (Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels) and a solid lineup, but I feel like this is the year when the regression fairy takes her generous gifts back.

It’s foolish to predict short series that will happen six months in the future, but for the permanent record, I see Cleveland beating the Cubs in a World Series rematch after they dispense with Boston and Washington in their respective LCS.

Here are my picks for the individual awards:

AL MVP
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland
3. Manny Machado, Orioles
NL MVP
1. Corey Seager, Dodgers
2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
3. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
AL Cy Young
1. Corey Kluber, Cleveland
2. Lance McCullers, Astros
3. Chris Sale, Red Sox
NL Cy Young
1. Noah Syndergaard, Mets
2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
3. Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks

 

 

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2017 Baseball Preview

Whether you believe Opening Day happens when two teams play on ESPN while your kids are in bed or when your favorite team takes the field on Monday, it’s close enough that we can pretend our yards aren’t coated in evil white dust and dream of baseball.  As I have the past few years, I’d like to celebrate the proximity of baseball by ranking the 100 players I expect to make the biggest impact on their teams’ abilities to win games in 2017.

Rather than boring you with my method, I’ll point you here in case you care and move on to the rankings. I gave honorable mentions to 24 players just outside the top 100, each of whom I have pegged for about 3 wins above replacement in 2017. The group includes one highly touted rookie (Alex Bregman), several rising star pitchers (Kevin Gausman, Jerad Eickhoff, Carlos Rodon, Danny Salazar, Kenta Maeda, Aaron Nola), a few veterans who may have something left in the tank (Ben Zobrist, Troy Tulowitzki, Rich Hill), the game’s best relievers (Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz), and a few other guys (Jose Abreu, Joc Pederson, Charlie Blackmon, Jean Segura, Kevin Pillar, Joe Panik, Marcel Ozuna, Yasmani Grandal, and Jordan Zimmermann).

Here are the top 100 in ascending order:

100. DJ LeMaheiu, Rockies- an infielder defending a batting title may seem ranked a little low at number 100, but LeMaheiu’s value is mostly tied up in his batting average, which is unlikely to fly so high again in ’17.
99. Carlos Santana, Cleveland- Who needs a position when you rake like Santana?
98. Jonathan Gray, Rockies
97. Michael Pineda, Yankees
96. Danny Duffy, Royals
95. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays- Four pitchers here with very different profiles.  The last two just helped the USA to their first WBC title, while the first could make a name for himself this year and the second has been on a strange rollercoaster ride his whole career.
94. Cesar Hernandez, Phillies- Among NL second basemen, only Daniel Murphy and Jean Segura were more valuable last year than Hernandez.  He and JP Crawford may well form the middle infield of the next contending team in Philly.
93. Collin McHugh, Astros
92. Julio Teheran, Braves
91. Cole Hamels, Rangers
90. Yu Darvish, Rangers- Another lot of pitchers with little in common, though the last two wear the same uniform.
89. Wil Myers, Padres
88. Todd Frazier, White Sox- Two sluggers whose careers moved in opposite directions in 2016. Both may find themselves in new uniforms by the end of 2017.
87. Andrelton Simmons, Angels- The game’s best defensive player could be a superstar with a little more stick.
86. JT Realmuto, Marlins- If you don’t know this name, you’re not alone.  When I picked him for my WAR-only fantasy team, I almost called him JP before looking him up. At 26, though, he’s one of the game’s best catchers with his bat, glove, and even legs (12 steals in ’16).
85. Aledmys Diaz, Cardinals- Who? Diaz is a 26-year-old shortstop who hit .300 as a rookie last year.
84. Neil Walker, Mets- A veteran second baseman with a solid track record hopes to make a name for himself with a big season in New York.
83. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks- How do you rank a guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball twice, including two years ago, but was barely worth 2 WAR last year?
82. Dexter Fowler, Cardinals
81. Jason Heyward, Cubs- Two centerfielders who have recently played for both the Cubs and Cardinals, in a couple years we’ll all think they were traded for each other and forget they coexisted on the 2016 Cubs.  Fowler’s game is mostly offense; Heyward’s mostly defense, but you can expect similar overall value this year.
80. Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks- Based on his 8-15 record and 4.90 ERA in 174 innings last year, fans may not expect huge things from Ray in ’17. But his 218 strikeouts make me wonder if he’s about to go all Max Scherzer on us.
79. Chris Davis, Orioles- Dingers and strikeouts, strikeouts and dingers.
78. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals- A rotation that looked as deep as any in 2015 might be down to Martinez and pray for rain this year.
77. Lorenzo Cain, Royals- After looking like one of the game’s best players during the Royals’ two World Series years, Cain came back to Earth with the team last year.  Here’s a guess that 2016 was the real Cain. 
76. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates- This pick has the feel of a devoted fan in denial about an older player’s decline, but I’m hopeful that Cutch has something left to offer.
75. Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays- We’ll learn this season whether Sanchez’s AL ERA title in 2016 was a coming out party or a fluke.
74. Nelson Cruz, Mariners
73. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland- Two guys who just crush baseballs (and one with an invisible pet parrot).
72. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals- He’s a full-time first baseman now, but he still has the well-rounded game to add value without hitting 30 homers.
71. Michael Fulmer, Tigers- Like Sanchez, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year will try to prove his brilliant 2016 wasn’t a fluke.
70. Jonathan Lucroy, Rangers- With Salvador Perez banged up, Lucroy’s only rival for the title of AL’s best catcher is a rookie you’ll read about a few lines down.
69. Kole Calhoun, Angels- With a career year on offense and defense, he could be the best outfielder the Angels have (outside of center field).
68. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland- The player with baseball’s most generic name will play some second and some third and when the playoffs come, we’ll all have forgotten how good he is. 
67. Trevor Story, Rockies- Dingers and strikeouts, strikeouts and dingers. And all the plays Nolan Arenado somehow can’t get to.
66. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland
65. Chris Archer, Rays
64. Lance McCullers, Astros- If he’s healthy, he could be much better than this. I started to write that about Carrasco before realizing how well it applies to Archer and McCullers as well. None of them is my AL Cy Young pick, but any of them could win it.
63. Jackie Bradley, Red Sox- He’s been streaky with the bat over his short career, but his defense makes him a valuable player even if he hits like today’s Jacoby Ellsbury.
62. Jacob deGrom, Mets- He had his turn as the Mets’ ace. Now he’ll settle in as the number two guy in one of the game’s best rotations.
61. Ender Inciarte, Braves- Even if Dansby Swanson doesn’t break out this year, Inciarte will remind us just how ridiculous the Shelby Miller trade was.
60. David Price, Red Sox- Price’s peripherals were much stronger than his 3.99 ERA in 2016, so he may not be in the steep decline Red Sox fans fear, but a balky elbow might keep him from throwing another 230 innings in ’17.
59. Odubel Herrera, Phillies- Quietly the best player on the Phillies over the past two seasons, Herrera added some power and patience in 2016 and is as well rounded as any NL outfielder.
58. Brandon Belt, Giants- If Beltre and Beltran ever age, Belt should have a brief run as the best baseball player in the world whose surname starts with Belt.
57. Jason Kipnis, Cleveland- He’ll open the season on the DL, but if Kipnis plays most of the season, he’s part of one of the game’s best middle infields.
56. Gerrit Cole, Pirates
55. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
54. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
53. Rick Porcello, Red Sox- Look, another four pitchers in a row! The last two broke out in a big way in 2016, while Cole struggled and Strasburg had yet another brilliant, but injury-shortened season.
52. George Springer, Astros
51. Dallas Keuchel, Astros- Here are Houston’s best outfielder and pitcher, respectively, but this juggernaut still has two names to come on this list.
50. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox- Like just about every Red Sox hitter, Pedroia hit better than expected in 2016. Even if he falls back a bit, his defense makes him a likely top-50 player.
49. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees- If his arm holds up, there may not be a better pitcher in the American League.
48. Daniel Murphy, Nationals
47. Anthony Rendon, Nationals- The Nationals’ second basemen of the past two seasons, one’s all bat and bigotry, the other has a well-rounded game that gets far less ink.
46. Justin Verlander, Tigers- I left him for dead a few years back, but he bounced back in a big way in 2016 and could contend for the Cy Young again this year.
45. Starling Marte, Pirates- Moving to center field could make Marte even more valuable to the Pirates.
44. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets
43. Justin Turner, Dodgers- The game’s two best free agents this offseason both ended up back with the same team they played for last year. Both teams depend heavily on their offensive production, while Turner’s glove and Cespedes’s arm are assets as well.
42. Evan Longoria, Rays- Would you believe Longo’s still only 31? He hasn’t returned to his MVP-caliber peak since 2010, but he’s added power and remains among the best at the game’s deepest position.
41. Gary Sanchez, Yankees- All we’ve seen Sanchez do is rake.  He could hit a sophomore slump and make this pick look foolish, but if he continues his late-summer ’16 rampage, he could more than justify this ranking.
40. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox- This list is loaded with young shortstops.  This one can hit for average and some power while running well and playing adequate defense.
39. Jon Lester, Cubs- Lester’s 33 and coming off three of the best seasons of his career.  Chicago’s defense should help keep his ERA down even if he shows some signs of age.
38. Trea Turner, Nationals- Another of those young shortstops, there’s no limit to what Turner might do in his first full season in the big leagues.
37. Christian Yelich, Marlins- With all of Giancarlo Stanton’s injuries, Yelich might just be the best outfielder (and thus the best player) on the Marlins.
36. Addison Russell, Cubs- More young shortstops! Here’s another with a brilliant glove and some clout, who will be a superstar if he starts hitting for average.
35. Johnny Cueto, Giants- Cueto didn’t need a change of scenery, but the move to San Francisco didn’t hurt, as he put together what may have been the best season of his career in 2016.
34. Adrian Beltre, Rangers- The way he’s going, in 2037, a 57-year-old Beltre might be 75th on this list.
33. Ian Kinsler, Tigers- Speaking of older players fighting valiantly against father time, Kinsler had his best season yet in 2016 at 33.
32. Adam Eaton, Nationals- Driven by obscene defensive ratings, Eaton was among the AL’s most valuable players in 2016. A move to Washington in 2017 comes with a move to center field, where he’s been more solid than stellar in the past. This rating reflects my belief that his more recent right field numbers tell us more about the center fielder he’ll be than his past center field numbers.
31. Jake Arrieta, Cubs- Like Cain, Arrieta seemed to fly higher than anyone could imagine for two years before settling in as a solid player last year.  Unlike Cain, but like Lester, he’ll benefit from the Cubs’ defense if he struggles in ’17.
30. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays- Eaton and Mookie Betts put up crazy defensive numbers in right field last year, but the game’s best outfielder is the guy who makes all other center fielders look like Hanley Ramirez.
29. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers- The anti-Kevin Kiermaier, Cabrera retains his value even at 33 by continuing to hit the cover off the baseball.
28. Brian Dozier, Twins- This is the year I admit that Brian Dozier is good at baseball.
27. Jose Quintana, White Sox- Is this the year the world admits that Jose Quintana is good at baseball?  If it didn’t happen last year, I doubt it, but Quintana will again be one of baseball’s best pitchers no matter what uniform he wears later in the year.
26. Brandon Crawford, Giants- When Crawford found a bat to match his stellar glove, he became one of the best players on one of the game’s best teams, and could be an MVP contender this year.
25. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins- I can’t think of another player who could hit 499 career home runs and be looked at as an utter disappointment.  It seems that every year, injuries are the only thing keeping Stanton from hitting 50 dingers.
24. Buster Posey, Giants- Here’s the guy that’s been the Giants’ best player throughout their remarkable run.  Even with some signs of age, he’s the league’s best catcher by a huge margin.
23. Robinson Cano, Mariners- Cano seemed DOA when he first got to Seattle, but proved last year that he’s still among the game’s best all-around second basemen.
22. Joey Votto, Reds- Another thirty-something who just keeps mashing.
21. Kyle Seager, Mariners- He’s already the lesser-known Seager brother, but Seager is the best player on a team that should contend in the AL West this year.
20. Madison Bumgarner, Giants- It’s hard to believe the guy who’s won ~56 Wild Card games is still only 27, but here we are.
19. Corey Kluber, Cleveland- He’s the best AL pitcher who won’t have to move to the AL East this year, which probably makes Kluber the Cy Young favorite.
18. Freddie Freeman, Braves- Freeman may have been the NL’s best hitter in 2016. If nothing else, he’s a reason to watch the Braves.
17. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs- This is the sixth Cub we’ve seen on this list, excluding one honorable mention.  And we’re not done.
16. Nolan Arenado, Rockies- Arenado added some patience to his prodigious power and flashy glove in 2016. Short of running the bases well and saving his pitchers’ arms from the terrors of Denver’s altitude, there’s not much he can’t do.
15. Carlos Correa, Astros- Another young AL shortstop and another Astros infielder finish ahead of Correa on this list, but at 22, Correa is younger than both and likely has a trophy or two in his future.
14. Chris Sale, Red Sox- The best pitcher in the AL signs with the Red Sox.  We heard that last year before David Price found himself with a homerun problem and a sore elbow.  Here’s hoping Sale can continue his dominance with different Sox on.
13. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks- 2016 was a bit of a down year for the game’s best first baseman. He’ll bounce back in ’17.
12. Jose Altuve, Astros- The little man added power in 2016 and might just be the best player in his own infield after all.
11. Max Scherzer, Nationals- He now has a Cy Young for each eye color.  Is this the year he adds a championship?
10. Corey Seager, Dodgers- As a rookie, Seager was the second-best player in the National League. I’m guessing we’ll see him duel with Kris Bryant for a few more MVP awards.
9. Bryce Harper, Nationals- Harper’s fWAR the last four years- 3.8, 1.3, 9.5, 3.5.  Your guess as to what comes next is as good as mine, but it seems pretty safe that it’ll be the second-highest number of his young career.
8. Noah Syndergaard, Mets- Thor is a giant of a man with a giant of a fastball and a giant city ready to watch him dominate hitters with the best of them.
7. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland- I called Andrelton Simmons the game’s best defensive player earlier, and I still believe that, but Lindor could approximate Simmons’s defense this year with a much stronger bat.
6. Mookie Betts, Red Sox- It’s hard to imagine Mookie getting any better, but if he adds patience in 2017 the way he added power in 2016, the sky’s the limit of his production.
5. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays- Donaldson’s been the second-most-valuable player in baseball during the Mike Trout years and showed no signs of slowing down at 30 last year.
4. Manny Machado, Orioles- I don’t see the Orioles contending this year, but I can see Machado putting up Troutworthy numbers.
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers- If not for last year’s injury, the game’s best pitcher would easily occupy the number two slot.
2. Kris Bryant, Cubs- The defending NL MVP is the best player on the game’s best team, can play several positions, and makes ladies swoon with a bat of his eyelashes.  Life must be pretty good.
1. Mike Trout, Angels- Short of making a Trump supporter read a book or folding a fitted sheet, there’s nothing this man can’t do.

 

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2017 Hall of Fame Ballot

The Hall of Fame ballot backlog built up in recent years has been frustrating, to say the least.  In 2016, some blessed space was opened up when Mike Piazza was elected and Mark McGwire and Alan Trammell aged off the ballot.  Newcomer Ken Griffey, Jr. predictably sailed in on his first try as well.

Does all of this make filling out a 2017 ballot any easier?  Maybe, but a voter who sees ten or fewer qualified candidates on this ballot is either a staunch steroid critic or believes the Hall should be far smaller than it is.  At least three worthy candidates join the fray for this go-around, opening up a net of one spot from last year’s morass.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the new names and then try to put together a ten-name ballot.  Numbers in parentheses are Hall Ratings from the indispensable hallofstats.com.

Casey Blake (37) – Over a thousand hits and 150 homers in a 13-year career.  Most human beings can’t claim those exploits.  Also, he was caught stealing more often than he successfully stole bases in his career.

Pat Burrell (28) – A bona fide slugger.  Burrell hit 292 homers in 6520 plate appearances.  That’s 58 percent of Eddie Murray’s homers in 51 percent of his plate appearances.  As you can see from his Hall Rating (100 is a borderline Hall of Famer), Burrell didn’t add much value beyond his power.

Orlando Cabrera (31) – I suppose every baseball fan reaches the age where he has to evaluate the Hall of Fame candidacy of his all-time favorite player.  For me, that age is 36 years, nine months, and a week.  For many of us, it’s probably disappointing to see our favorite guy’s case look so flaccid.

Before he came to Boston in the fateful Nomar Garciaparra trade, I knew Cabrera as a dazzling gloveman plying his trade north of the border.  Then he came to Boston, hit a home run in his first plate appearance, made up a personalized high-five with every player on the team, and hit in ten consecutive playoff games on the way to Boston’s first world championship in 86 years.  He left for Anaheim so quickly that the words “Red Sox” don’t appear on his Fangraphs page unless you ask for in-season splits, but he left such a permanent mark in New England that it’s hard to picture him in another uniform.  I met Cabrera at Hadlock Field in Portland a few years ago, where I was so starstruck that, rather than striking up a conversation, I awkwardly handed him my son and asked a staffer for a picture.  Years later, I look at his baseball resume and see solid numbers- more than 2,000 hits, very good fielding and baserunning numbers- and, somehow, less value than Casey Blake.  Life comes at you fast.

Mike Cameron (83) – Another short-term Red Sox, and a far better player than Cabrera, but one for whom I have far less admiration.  Cameron stole almost 300 bases, hit almost 300 home runs, made countless dazzling catches in center field, and has a higher Hall Rating than Hall of Famers Hack Wilson and Roy Campanella.  But he’s barely worth a paragraph on this still-crowded ballot.

JD Drew (87) – Oh, how I’d love to cast a Hall of Fame vote for JD Drew.  A career .278/.384/.489 hitter (28 percent better than league-average), Drew was a strong baserunner and a decent right fielder with a lethal arm.  After an MVP-caliber season in 2004 with the Braves and two disappointing seasons with the Dodgers, Drew came to Boston , where he replaced Trot Nixon, a player with double the enthusiasm and half the talent. Red Sox fans saw the new left-handed hitting right fielder with a seven on his back take pitches and show no emotion after strikeouts and missed Trot’s hard-nosed pluck, rarely stopping to notice that Drew walked in 14 percent of his plate appearances as a Red Sox and carried a .370 OBP (.390 over his first three seasons), or that his grand slam in Game Six of the 2007 ALCS might have been the most important moment en route to Boston’s second title in four years.

Drew was no Vlad Guerrero or Larry Walker, but he earned one more WAR than Kirby Puckett in over 200 fewer games.  Had he been able to extend his prime for two or three more years, we might be debating whether he’s more worthy of a spot on this year’s ballot than Sammy Sosa or Tim Raines.

Vladimir Guerrero (111) – Vlad hit 449 home runs, the same count as Jeff Bagwell.  His 2,590 hits are within 100 of Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Nellie Fox, Harry Heilmann, and Ed Delahanty.  He had one of the great outfield arms in baseball history and, before Olympic Stadium messed up his knees, once stole 77 bases in two seasons. Everything about Vlad screamed “Hall of Famer”. Let’s hope he’s eventually one of the ten most worthy players on a ballot.

Carlos Guillen (46) – A good hitter and a shortstop, if not a particularly rangy one, for parts of 14 seasons.  Very good career.

Derrek Lee (57) – In 2005, Lee hit .335/.418/.662 with 46 home runs and 15 stolen bases for the Cubs.  His career fielding and baserunning numbers aren’t much to look at, but he was an elite hitter, and for at least one year, played like a Hall of Famer.

Melvin Mora (47) – During Mora’s tenure with the Orioles, I remember watching a game, probably on New England Sports Network, in which the broadcast team decided to have a little fun with Mora, probably in deference to his defensive versatility.  When he came to bat, a graphic indicated that he was the father of quintuplets, a professional boxer, and the president of Venezuela. I can’t find any reference to the graphic online today, but as it turns out, the quintuplets bit was true, and he really did consider a run for President. He also reached base safely over 2,000 times in his career and played solid defense all over the diamond.

Magglio Ordonez (65) – Like Derrek Lee, Ordonez was a solid player who very briefly looked like a legend.  In 2007, he hit .363/.434/.595 with 28 homers and 54 doubles for the Tigers.  He had four 30-homer seasons before then, but never again reached 200 hits or 50 doubles.

Jorge Posada (90) – Posada’s Hall Rating is higher than that of Hall of Fame catchers Campanella, Rick Ferrell, and Ray Schalk. It’s also lower than that of Ted Simmons, Joe Torre, Gene Tenace, Thurman Munson, and Bill Freehan, none of whom is enshrined.  While I support the candidacies of Simmons, Torre, Tenace, and Munson, I draw the line ahead of Freehan.  Posada’s 103 hits and 11 homers in the postseason are worth some bonus points, but I would be more impressed if it didn’t take 125 games to compile them.  He wouldn’t be an awful choice, but Posada certainly doesn’t fit with other BBWAA selections.

Manny Ramirez (129) – I don’t like talking about steroids every year when Hall of Fame debates pick up.  Yes, some guys probably had advantages that helped them compile the numbers we use as ammunition for our debates.  But there’s always been so much gray area- uncertainty as to who took what and how much it helped, complexity in what substances were banned when, and how (or even whether) the bans were enforced, etc.- that I’ve always taken a simpler approach of evaluating players’ candidacies based on their success on the field.

Manny’s a different case.  He might have been the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history.  His defense was so bad that it canceled over 40% of his offensive value.  His postseason exploits were legendary, and his love of the game was infectious.  If he’d accepted a typical decline after the 2004 season, he might be heading to the Hall of Fame in 2017.  But he took PEDs.

And he got caught.  Twice.  There’s a difference between sanctimonious writers playing moral arbiter by pretending they know who did and didn’t cheat in the juiced-up nineties and voters who refuse to elect a player who was twice caught and suspended, costing his team important wins.  Manny was a Hall of Fame baseball player.  I’d vote for him if I had the chance.  But his candidacy is not going anywhere, and this time, I won’t blame the writers.  I’ll blame the player.

Edgar Renteria (52) – Had a walkoff hit in World Series games in two different decades, with a whole decade in between.  Also had a famous feud with my favorite player ever, the fellow Columbian shortstop I wrote about above.

Arthur Rhodes (38) – Struck out almost a batter an inning for 21 years.  Also had an ERA over 4, though he pitched a lot of years in a high-powered American League.

Ivan Rodriguez (154) – Defensive metrics don’t always hold up in cross-era comparisons, but for what it’s worth, Pudge’s 317 Defensive Runs (per Fangraphs) are 37 percent better than any other catcher in baseball history.  Johnny Bench fans may argue, but Rodriguez’s reputation backs up the stats.  He could also hit a bit.  He didn’t walk much, but he batted .294 over more than 10,000 PA and added 311 homers and an MVP award.  A Hall of Fame without Ivan probably shouldn’t have any catchers in it.

Freddy Sanchez (25) – A solid middle infielder who probably didn’t need to be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Matt Stairs (19) – A part-time slugger who belted the heck out of baseballs and probably didn’t need to be on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Jason Varitek (41) – A Hall of Fame plaque for Varitek would be easy to write.  Caught four no-hitters.  Captained two world champion teams.  Hit almost 200 homers as a strong defensive catcher and an excellent pitch caller.  Catalyzed the 2004 Red Sox with his role in a tide-turning brawl with the hated Yankees.  Unfortunately, 1,307 hits and 24.3 WAR, even with all the intangibles, don’t make a Hall of Fame career.

Javier Vazquez (86) – Vazquez isn’t even on the ballot.  I included him here because, if he were on the ballot, he’d be the fifth or sixth best newcomer.  Win/loss record and ERA don’t recommend him, but this sampling of the all-time strikeout leaderboard does:

26. Warren Spahn, 2,583

27. Bob Feller, 2,581

28. Tim Keefe, 2,564

29. Jerry Koosman, 2,556

30. Javier Vazquez, 2,536

31. AJ Burnett, 2,513

32. Christy Mathewson, 2,507

33. Don Drysdale, 2,486

With the exception of Burnett, everyone on that list threw at least 500 more innings than Vazquez.  With the exceptions of Burnett, Vazquez, and Koosman, everyone on that list is a Hall of Famer.  The strikeouts don’t make Vazquez worthy of a bronze plaque, but they make him worthy of a long discussion and perhaps a writer or two casting a vote in his favor.

Tim Wakefield (60) – This has been a very Red Sox ballot, hasn’t it.  Wakefield, Varitek, Ramirez, and Cabrera were on the historic 2004 team.  Posada and Vazquez were on the Yankee team the Red Sox vanquished on the way up.  Guerrero and Renteria, respectively, were on the Angels and Cardinals teams they beat in the ALDS and World Series.  Cameron, Renteria, and Drew joined the team a few years later.

Wake pitched 3,226 big-league innings over 20 seasons as a starter, a long relief man, a swingman, a middle reliever, and, briefly, a closer.  He threw a complete game in Game Three of the 1992 NLCS, started Game One of the 2004 World Series, and was still starting playoff games in his forties for the 2007 and 2008 Red Sox.  He was never a strikeout pitcher, but he managed 2,156 of them.  He threw more complete games (33) than Zack Greinke and David Price have thrown combined.  That’s not a Hall of Fame resume, but it’s a really good one.

 

Those are the new guys.  Now, let’s list all the players whose Hall candidacies I support, starting with the ten who would comprise my hypothetical ballot:

  1. Barry Bonds (362) – probably the best baseball player ever
  2. Roger Clemens (294) – possibly the best pitcher ever
  3. Jeff Bagwell (164) – the best first baseman born between 1910 and 1979
  4. Ivan Rodriguez (154) – probably the best defensive catcher ever; Yogi Berra and Gary Carter’s competition for the second best all-around catcher ever
  5. Mike Mussina (164) – the pitcher between Pedro Martinez and Nolan Ryan in career rWAR
  6. Larry Walker (151) – the biggest reason I still have a blog; the guy who inspired this piece and this one and this one
  7. Edgar Martinez (135) – a player who shares the same wRC+ (147) as Honus Wagner, Mike Schmidt, and Ralph Kiner
  8. Tim Raines (128) – a guy who reached base more often than Tony Gwynn, stole more bases than Joe Morgan, and earned more WAR per plate appearance than Derek Jeter
  9. Vladimir Guerrero (111) – the best outfielder in baseball once Barry Bonds retired
  10. Billy Wagner (65) – the pitcher with the best FIP and the second-best ERA of any retired reliever who pitched after 1920

Now, four more players whom I would vote for given unlimited choices:

  1. Curt Schilling (172) – Obviously, Schilling was better than Wagner.  He was probably more valuable than every player named above except Bonds and Clemens.  He has the best K/BB ratio in modern baseball history and is possibly the most accomplished postseason pitcher ever.  And of course the Hall of Fame should reward on-field greatness above all else.  All that said, the thought of giving Schilling a podium and letting him share his deranged and potentially harmful views of the world sickens me to the point where I can’t even give him the nod on my hypothetical ballot over a reliever with just over a third of the career value.
  2. Manny Ramirez (129) – A better player than Guerrero and probably Raines, and a guy I loved watching for many years.  I’d love to see him in the Hall someday, but I’ll save my theoretical votes for someone who wasn’t caught cheating twice *after* a testing program was put in place.
  3. Sammy Sosa (116) – Another guy who was probably better than Guerrero and more valuable than Wagner, one who owns almost half of all the 60-homer seasons in baseball history.  Unfortunately, ten guys have more solid cases that are more fun to defend.
  4. Gary Sheffield (116) – A player who offered value similar to Sosa’s without the historic numbers and the unbridled joy.  Good enough for the Hall, but not close to earning a spot in my top ten.

And finally, six close calls just on the wrong side of my line:

  1. Trevor Hoffman (63) – Tons of saves, but he was basically Lee Smith, and I’m not sure Lee Smith is a Hall of Famer.
  2. Lee Smith (63) – Tons of saves, but he was basically Trevor Hoffman, and I’m not sure Trevor Hoffman is a Hall of Famer.
  3. Jeff Kent (102) – A great hitter at a premium position, but there are several more valuable second basemen outside the Hall.
  4. Jorge Posada (90) – If Posada’s presence was as meaningful to the Yankees as Varitek’s was to the Red Sox, he’s something like a Hall of Famer.
  5. Fred McGriff (94) – A perfectly defensible choice, but I’d like to see Keith Hernandez and other first basemen get in first.
  6. JD Drew (87) – He’s closer than you think.
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2016 Other Award Ballots

With MVPs and Cy Youngs out of the way, let’s take a look at the awards for best manager, rookie, and reliever in 2016:

Manager of the Year

National League

I typically decide this simply by comparing my preseason predictions to the actual standings.  Here’s how they shook out:

  1. Pete Mackanin, Phillies (8 games better than my prediction)
  2. Brian Snitker, Braves (6 games better)
  3. Walt Weiss, Rockies (5 games better)

Off the top of my head, I couldn’t have told you who managed any of these teams this year. My method breaks down because the NL was very predictable this season.  Coming into the year, it looked like there were 7 good teams, 2 average teams, and 6 bad teams.  Of the seven who looked good, only the Pirates weren’t.  The Diamondbacks didn’t live up to my expectations of mediocrity.  All six teams that looked bad were bad.  The biggest “overperformer” among teams that actually made the playoffs was the Nationals, who won three more than the 92 games I guessed they’d win.

Mackanin win because his Phillies, who looked like as bad a team as any in the league, never actually saw last place.  Of course, he owes much of that to the quick development of Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola, and Jerad Eickhoff… unless they owe that development to him.

American League

  1. Jeff Banister, Rangers (16 games better than my prediction)
  2. Buck Showalter, Orioles (10 games better)
  3. Brad Ausmus, Tigers (10 games better)

I gave Showalter the tiebreaker because he led the Orioles to the playoffs, rather than the last-place finish I predicted.  I have no idea how Banister got 95 wins out of a Rangers team that looked pretty bad before the trade deadline and just decent after it.  Like any manager, he may or may not have had much to do with the overperformance, but this award feels right.  My biggest miss in the wrong direction was Kevin Cash’s Rays, who won 14 fewer games than the 82 I predicted, the same spread as Clint Hurdle’s Pirates in the NL.

 

Rookie of the Year

National League

  1. Corey Seager, Dodgers
  2. Trea Turner, Nationals
  3. Trevor Story, Rockies

Seager was far closer to winning the MVP award as well than to not locking down the RoY. He reached base 51 times more than any other NL rookie. He had 19 more extra base hits than any other.  And he’s a shortstop.  A really good one.  No competition here.

Story was the story of the first half of the season, and Turner turnered the corner strongly in the second half (I’m sorry; I’m a horrible person), but neither was half as valuable as Seager.  Jon Gray looked great by FIP, Steven Matz looked great by ERA, and Seung Hwan Oh was dominant in relief.  Any of them could compete for second- and third-place votes, but none accumulated anything like Seager’s value.

American League

  1. Gary Sanchez, Yankees
  2. Michael Fulmer, Tigers
  3. Tyler Naquin, Indians

Sanchez only played 53 games in the big leagues, but he hit .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs and above average defense as a catcher. Those 20 dingers prorate to 60 if he played 159 games, a major haul for a catcher, but not impossible if the Yankees let him DH from time to time. Just ridiculous.

Fulmer appeared in just 26 games, but a pitcher with 159 innings pitched is close to qualifying for the ERA title, and Fulmer’s 3.06 ERA would have put him within .06 points of winning it had he tossed three more innings.  I’m not sure how sustainable his 79% strand rate is, so I doubt he’s really a 3-ERA pitcher going forward, but in 2016 he had a great season and he wouldn’t be a bad pick to win this award.  Naquin’s defense was as bad as it looked in the playoffs, but he hit .296 with 14 homers and some wheels, good enough to win this award if we only considered full-year position players.

 

Reliever of the Year

National League

  1. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
  2. Addison Reed, Mets
  3. Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals

Jansen’s 1.83 ERA in 68 2/3 innings is nearly as impressive as his 1.44 FIP.  He struck out almost ten batters for every one he walked.  Reed was the only other NL reliever with both an ERA and a FIP under 2 (1.97 in both cases).  Oh had a 1.92 ERA while pitching more innings (79 2/3) than any other elite NL reliever.

American League

  1. Zach Britton, Orioles
  2. Andrew Miller, Yankees/Indians
  3. Christopher Devenski, Astros

Britton’s 0.54 ERA makes him the easy call here, but Miller certainly has a case. Miller threw 74 1/3 innings to Britton’s 67.  Miller struck out 123 batters to Britton’s 74 and walked only nine, vs. Britton’s 18.  The gap in total runs allowed (13-7) isn’t as broad as the gap in earned runs (12-4).  For what it’s worth, Miller even earned 10 wins, indicating that his presence often turned games around, as we saw so many times in the postseason.  All that said, I just can’t quite snub the guy who gave up one run after April 30.

Devenski, who also started five games, had a 1.61 ERA in 83 2/3 relief innings and a 2.16 ERA in 108 1/3 total innings, edging out Dellin Betances and Edwin Diaz for the final spot.

Posted in Dodgers, Orioles, Phillies, Postseason Awards, Rangers, Yankees | Leave a comment

2016 Cy Young Ballots

This year’s MVP votes were pretty straightforward. Mike Trout was easily the best player in the American League, and while some people won’t vote for him because his teammates are awful, few will deny he was the most effective player in the league.  I’m sure someone will invent a reason why Kris Bryant wasn’t the most valuable player in the NL, but I haven’t yet figured out on what grounds that argument will be based.

The Cy Young awards are different. Reasonable people may disagree about which pitcher was the best in each league.  Was it the most dominant pitcher, regardless of volume of innings?  Was it the guy who ate up a ton of innings and got a lot of guys out too?  Was it the guy who best used his excellent defense to keep runs off the board?  Was it the guy who kept runners off the bases and succeeded despite his team’s defense?  Let’s take a closer look:

National League

This is a hard one.  What makes a pitcher valuable?  Is it ERA?  If so:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 1.69 (in too few innings to qualify for the title)
  2. Rich Hill, Dodgers 2.12 (in too few innings)
  3. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs 2.13
  4. Jon Lester, Cubs 2.44
  5. Noah Syndergaard, Mets 2.60

ERA certainly matters, but the top two guys threw fewer than 150 innings and the next two guys pitched in front of the best defense we’ve seen in years.  That doesn’t discount any of these pitchers, but the decision can’t end here.  How about FIP?

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 1.80 (in too few innings)
  2. Noah Syndergaard, Mets 2.29
  3. Jose Fernandez, Marlins 2.30
  4. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals 2.92
  5. Johnny Cueto, Giants 2.96

These look like more dominant pitchers than the first five guys, but the guy at the top retired 104 fewer batters than the second guy and 212 fewer than the fifth guy.  Volume matters, so let’s apply volume to FIP and adjust for park factors.  That’s fWAR:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 6.5
  2. Noah Syndergaard, Mets 6.5
  3. Jose Fernandez, Marlins 6.2
  4. Max Scherzer, Nationals 5.6
  5. Johnny Cueto, Giants 5.5

I like this list the most so far, but it’s still topped by a guy who pitched for 2/3 of the season and compiled fWAR by striking out guys and not walking anyone.  Was he still the most valuable pitcher by aggregated run prevention?  That’s rWAR:

  1. Max Scherzer, Nationals 6.2
  2. Johnny Cueto, Giants 5.6
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 5.6
  4. Tanner Roark, Nationals 5.5
  5. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals 5.4

These are some new names.  There’s not much consensus this year between FIP-based WAR and RA9-based WAR.  Of course, at this point, we know neither measure is ideal, right?  Pitchers can’t control how the defense plays behind them, but some have proven better at influencing weak contact, right?  Let’s check Baseball Prospectus’s Deserved Run Average:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2.03 (in too few innings)
  2. Jose Fernandez, Marlins 2.23
  3. Rich Hill, Dodgers 2.63 (in too few innings)
  4. Noah Syndergaard, Mets 2.71
  5. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals 2.85

So the short-timers are back and the Cubs whose defense got everybody out are nowhere to be found.  Let’s apply volume again.  That’s WARP:

  1. Jose Fernandez, Marlins 6.5
  2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 5.8
  3. Noah Syndergaard, Mets 5.6
  4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants 5.5
  5. Jon Lester, Cubs 5.3

So the most valuable pitcher in the National League was Kershaw. Unless it was Scherzer.  Or Fernandez.  Or one of the three qualified ERA leaders.  I’m stumped.  Let’s try something I’ve used the last few years: a hybrid approach using Fangraphs data that gives full credit to FIP wins (strikeouts, walks, homers), half credit to BIP wins (what happens when the ball is put in play), and quarter credit to LOB wins (everything else that keeps runs off the board):

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 6.975
  2. Max Scherzer, Nationals 6.425
  3. Johnny Cueto, Giants 5.8
  4. Noah Syndergaard, Mets 5.775
  5. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs 5.675
  6. Jose Fernandez, Marlins 5.65
  7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants 5.625
  8. Jon Lester, Cubs 5.575
  9. Jake Arrieta, Cubs 4.825
  10. Tanner Roark, Nationals 4.325

I’ve been accused by friends of being a fipster, and it’s true that I prefer strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed as a measure of a pitcher’s effectiveness to run prevention.  That said, preventing runs matters, and I can’t ignore Baseball Prospectus telling me that the late Jose Fernandez was the league’s most valuable this year.  My official ballot, which could change with a stiff wind, looks like this:

  1. Kershaw
  2. Scherzer
  3. Syndergaard
  4. Fernandez
  5. Hendricks

 

American League

Let’s look at all those same stats for the AL.  Starting with ERA:

  1. Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays 3.00
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers 3.04
  3. Michael Fulmer, Tigers 3.06 (in too few innings to qualify)
  4. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees 3.07
  5. Corey Kluber, Indians 3.14

Then FIP:

  1. James Paxton, Mariners 2.80 (in too few innings)
  2. Yu Darvish, Rangers 3.09 (in too few innings)
  3. Corey Kluber, Indians 3.26
  4. Rick Porcello, Red Sox 3.40
  5. Chris Sale, White Sox 3.46

Again, we’ve got a few starters who had great years in limited action.  I used 100 innings as my threshold for all these lists, so the two names at the top above were a surprise. Let’s use fWAR to see who held that great FIP through a long season:

  1. Rick Porcello, Red Sox 5.2
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers 5.2
  3. Chris Sale, White Sox 5.2
  4. Corey Kluber, Indians 5.1
  5. Jose Quintana, White Sox 4.8

So… this is going to be pretty close, isn’t it?  Let’s look at rWAR:

  1. Justin Verlander, Tigers 6.6
  2. Chris Sale, White Sox 6.5
  3. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees 5.4
  4. Jose Quintana, White Sox 5.2
  5. Rick Porcello, Red Sox 5.0

Baseball Reference seems to think this is a two-man race.  Does Baseball Prospectus agree?  Here’s DRA:

  1. Yu Darvish, Rangers 2.56 (in too few innings)
  2. Michael Pineda, Yankees 2.58
  3. Cole Hamels, Rangers 2.65
  4. Chris Sale, White Sox 2.69
  5. Carlos Carrasco, Indians 2.69

Not by this measure.  Pineda had a 4.82 ERA and a 3.80 FIP.  Apparently, his 2016 was among the most extreme miscarriages of justice we’ve ever seen on a baseball field.  Onto WARP:

  1. Chris Sale, White Sox 7.0
  2. Justin Verlander, Tigers 6.8
  3. David Price, Red Sox 6.5
  4. Cole Hamels, Rangers 6.2
  5. Corey Kluber, Indians 5.9

Ok, we’re back to those two names.  Finally, my hybrid WAR:

  1. Justin Verlander, Tigers 6.05
  2. Rick Porcello, Red Sox 5.825
  3. Corey Kluber, Indians 5.575
  4. Chris Sale, White Sox 5.5
  5. Jose Quintana, White Sox 5.1
  6. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees 5.1
  7. Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays 4.675
  8. David Price, Red Sox 4.35
  9. JA Happ, Blue Jays 4.075
  10. Marco Estrada, Blue Jays 3.875

In the NL, I see eight starters who could reasonably win the Cy Young award. In the AL, it’s probably six.  None of these guys stands out enough to prevent a reliever like Zach Britton from stealing the real award (though Rick Porcello’s winz will probably be enough).  I’ll save the relievers for their own award.

As to my ballot, the top spot comes down to Verlander and Sale, who threw almost the same number of innings with the same fWAR, rWAR within a tenth of a win (in favor of Verlander), and WARP within two tenths (in favor of Sale).  Verlander had more strikeouts, Sale had fewer walks.  Here’s my tiebreaker: Verlander threw his 227 2/3 innings in 34 starts; Sale threw his 226 2/3 in 32.  That means Sale went deeper into games, on average, sparing his bullpen, and accumulating the same value in slightly fewer opportunities.  Basically, I’m choosing dominance over volume, though neither candidate has an obvious advantage in either of those domains.

  1. Sale
  2. Verlander
  3. Porcello
  4. Kluber
  5. Quintana
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2016 MVP Ballots

Unless your team wins the World Series, there are few days on the calendar sadder than the day the last out settles into a player’s glove and baseball slips into hibernation.  Among the few reprieves from the long, dark winter are big-ticket free agent signings, Hall of Fame voting season, and award season.

Before those dark days befall us, I’d like to jump ahead to award season by sharing the ballots I would gladly submit to any authority interested in my opinion.  I’ll start with the MVP awards because they’re not as interesting as the Cy Young awards.  If you’ve been here before, you probably know which guys will find their names at the top of my ballots.  I’ll list my top ten in each league.

National League

10. Buster Posey, Giants – I’m a believer in WAR as a starting point for MVP discussions, and between the two versions of WAR, it often permeates the entire conversation.  After all, what is value if not the sum of a player’s offensive and defensive contributions to his team’s success?  The one place I’m willing to veer furthest off the WAR course is with catcher evaluation.  Catching is a different job with a different degree of difficulty, and anyone who can do it well and also provide offensive value is among the league’s most valuable players.  Posey had a pedestrian year with the bat, at least by his standards, hitting .288/.362/.454 with 14 home runs.  That’s still the second best line among NL catchers, and the value he provides defensively more than makes up for the difference between his bat and that of, say, teammate Brandon Belt, another contender for this spot.

9. Dexter Fowler, Cubs – In April and May, Fowler was probably the best player in the National League.  In April and May, the Cubs established themselves as the best team in baseball and a certain playoff participant.  He missed some time and finished slower, but that .393 OBP looks pretty good on a guy with Fowler’s wheels and a decent glove.

8. Brandon Crawford, Giants – Defensively, there wasn’t a better player in the National League in 2016 than Crawford, at least according to Fangraphs, which gives him credit for 28 Fielding Runs Above Average, 6 better than runner-up Freddy Galvis.  Crawford brought the bat to work this year too, hitting .275/.342/.430 with 12 homers and 7 stolen bases.

7. Justin Turner, Dodgers – Like Crawford, Turner excelled with the bat (27 homers, 124 wRC+) and the glove (16 FRAA).  He’s quietly been among the best players on one of the best teams in baseball for the past three seasons.

6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs – Rizzo’s offensive numbers (.292/.385/.544) were almost identical to teammate Kris Bryant’s (.292/.385/.554).  Bryant’s the better fielder and the better baserunner, but Bryant certainly owes many of his league-leading 121 runs to Rizzo’s monster year.

5. Freddie Freeman, Braves- By the time Freeman started hitting, the Braves were about 80 games behind Washington and his 34 homers didn’t mean much, but his 18 second-half homers and his 177 second-half wRC+ were both second in the NL, and he led the league in WAR in September.  All told, he hit .302/.400/.569 for a Braves team that had few other bright spots.

4. Daniel Murphy, Nationals- I don’t often give bonus points for team performance, but Murphy hit a lot like Freeman (.347/.390/.595 with 25 homers) for a team whose games were meaningful all season, so while both keepers of WAR prefer Freeman, I’m willing to bump Murphy ahead.

3. Nolan Arenado, Rockies- Nolan Arenado hit 41 home runs this year and plays some of the best third-base defense in baseball.  It’s hard to fathom that not being enough to finish in the top two in MVP voting, but, well, Colorado, I guess.  Arenado’s biggest weakness coming into this season was patience, as he’d never compiled an OBP above .330.  In 2016, he walked in almost 10% of his plate appearances, jumping his OBP to .362, with a .570 slugging percentage to boot.  Arenado’s advocates will tell you that he hit 16 of his homers outside of Colorado, and that he’s not a product of the ballpark, and while there’s truth to that, his .277/.340/.492 line at sub-Denver altitudes doesn’t exactly look like that of the rest of the guys in this top five, except maybe for the slick-fielding shortstop…

2. Corey Seager, Dodgers – Here’s that shortstop.  The one who was born in 1994.  The one who batted .308/.365/.512 with 26 home runs for the division-winning Dodgers.  With great fielding and good baserunning, Fangraphs tells us his season was worth 7.5 WAR, second only to this guy…

1. Kris Bryant, Cubs – He might win the real MVP award unanimously.  He probably should.  .292/.395/.554.  39 homers. 8 stolen bases.  Good glove, good legs, and those eyes…  The 103 wins don’t hurt his case either.

 

American League

10. Kyle Seager, Mariners

9. Robinson Cano, Mariners – Seattle’s 2nd- and 3rd basemen had eerily similar years, with wRC+s of 138 and 133, respectively, positive but not elite defensive numbers, and negative but not atrocious baserunning numbers.  Cano (39 homers, to Seager’s 30) relies more on power to drive his offensive value, while Seager (10.2% walk rate, to Cano’s 6.6%) depends more on patience.

8. Adrian Beltre, Rangers – I’m not convinced there will ever be another year when Beltre isn’t one of the ten best players in the American League.  In 2016, at age 37, he hit .300/.358/.521 with typical Beltre defense; the one great player on a surprisingly great team.  His last hit was his 2,942nd; his last home run his 445th.  A legend.

7. David Ortiz, Red Sox – WAR disagrees with this pick- Ortiz finished 22nd among AL position players in fWAR and 17th in rWAR.  Offensively, though, Ortiz was the second-best player in baseball, his .315/.401/.620 line equating to a 163 wRC+.  He hit 38 home runs and 48 doubles in his age-40 season. That’s got to be worth some bonus points, right?

6. Francisco Lindor, Indians – It’s tempting to cheat Lindor up a few spots after his postseason coming-out party, but this seems like the best spot for his regular-season exploits.  He batted .301 with 15 homers, 19 stolen bases, and the best defense in the American League. And it seems he may still go up from here.

5. Manny Machado, Orioles – When Machado broke into the league, everybody knew he could play shortstop.  The Orioles decided to sign JJ Hardy, presumably to keep the pressure off and let Machado hone his hitting skills, so he became the best defensive third baseman in baseball.  This year, with Hardy injured, Machado played 45 games at short and was as good as just about anyone in the league before moving back to third and making breathtaking play after breathtaking play.  Throw his 37 homers on top of the second-best infield defense in the AL and he’s one of the league’s five best players.  If he can take 25 more walks next year, he might be the second-best.

4. Jose Altuve, Astros – Being 5’6″ has probably kept a lot of really good athletes from plying their trade professionally. It was probably a hindrance to Altuve at various times in his young life.  In 2016, though, it won him the Sporting News Player of the Year Award over at least three more valuable players.  Sure, he hit .338, stole 30 bases, and even hit a surprising 24 home runs. He also provided less defensive and baserunning value than any of the three names to come.  I don’t mean to sell Altuve short- he’s a great player coming off a truly great season- but let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill.

3. Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays – Narratives can be a funny thing.  Last year, the Blue Jays surged to the front of the American League East for the first time since it’s been a five-team league.  In his first year on the team, Donaldson had a 154 wRC+, hit 41 homers, and won the MVP Award.  In 2016, the Blue Jays contended for the division title all year and made the playoffs, led by Donaldson’s 155 wRC+ and 37 homers.  He might not finish in the top five in MVP voting.  It’s true that his defense and baserunning were down a tick this year, costing him a win above replacement, and that the Blue Jays finished second, but Donaldson was basically the same guy this year as last year.

2. Mookie Betts, Red Sox – Perhaps to a greater degree than usual, some of the game’s greatest skills are concentrated with a few players.  Fangraphs tells us that Mookie Betts was the game’s most valuable baserunner in 2016, contributing 9.8 runs above average.  Baseball Reference tells us he was the best fielder, at least according to his positional peers, with an incredible 32 Fielding Runs.  Thanks in large part to coming to bat 730 times, Betts was also the third most valuable offensive player in the American League.  If only he weren’t playing in the same league as this guy…

1. Mike Trout, Angels – There’s not much left to write about this guy.  He was by far the best hitter in baseball, with a .315/.441(!)/.550 line while playing half his games in a pitchers’ park.  He hit 29 homers and stole 30 bases.  He’s still an above-average outfielder and added more value on the bases than any major leaguer other than Betts.  There’s Mike Trout and there’s everyone else.

Posted in Angels, Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Orioles, Postseason Awards, Rangers, Red Sox, Rockies | 2 Comments

Forecasting October with Playoff Runs

If you’ve paid any attention to baseball over the past decade or so, you know that playoff results are governed by something other than logic. There is no formula that can identify a great playoff team. October baseball is driven by some combination of heart, guts, grit, and randomness- a little heavier on the last one.

That paragraph served as the introduction to my 2015 MLB playoff preview- an excuse, perhaps, for the inevitable failure of the playoff runs model I’d just created. As it turns out, Playoff Runs worked pretty well, whether by chance or due to some underlying validity. I correctly predicted the winners of both Wild Card games, three of four Division Series, and the Mets beating the Cubs in the NLCS, a result that probably surprised many observers. All three series I missed were the result of the Royals’ playoff magic.

Perhaps I should rest on those laurels, tell everyone I knew the Mets were better than they looked, and shut the whole thing down. But I’d rather try again and risk going 2-7 this year and losing both of my followers on Twitter.

Here’s a link to last year’s piece, which goes into more detail about the process than I will below.

Essentially, Playoff Runs assigns roles to 25 players on each playoff team, assumes a certain number of innings pitched, plate appearances, and defensive chances for each role, and uses Fangraphs’ Runs Above Replacement (for pitchers and hitters) and Runs Above Average (for fielders and baserunners) to determine how much value each player will provide over those innings and plate appearances.

Like any prediction system, and particularly one that tries to standardize each team’s roster construction, it has its flaws, but I prefer it to a simple observation of each team’s 2016 results because it gives full credit to the players on the roster right now, leaving off injured players while giving full credit to called-up prospects and trade acquisitions.

Rather than simply ranking the teams based on their total scores, let’s mock the playoffs by assuming the team with the better Playoff Runs score for the appropriate length series (1 game, best-of-five, or best-of-seven) wins every time. Here’s guessing the result won’t be as surprising as last year’s.

American League Wild Card Game

Blue Jays (3.43) over Orioles (3.06)

Why the Blue Jays Win This Simulation

The Blue Jays basically do everything one can do on a baseball field better than the Orioles do. Baltimore hits more home runs, but not enough to offset the Blue Jays’ major advantage when it comes to avoiding outs. Baltimore has the better bullpen, particularly at the back end, but that’s not enough to offset Toronto’s far better starting pitching. Neither team is using its best pitcher in the Wild Card game, but Marcus Stroman stacks up better than Chris Tillman, mostly thanks to a better walk rate.  Baltimore, by a miniscule margin, is the weakest team in the playoffs according to Playoff Runs.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

Buck Showalter has gotten far more out of the Orioles than their talent would suggest all year. If Baltimore can keep the game close in the early innings, Brad Brach and Zach Britton could be the perfect antidote to the Donaldson-Bautista-Encarnacion murderer’s row.

National League Wild Card Game

Mets (3.85) over Giants (3.57)

Why the Mets Win This Simulation

This is where the Playoff Runs system is going to get accused of being biased in the Mets’ favor. No Harvey, no deGrom, no Matz, no Wright, no Walker, and these guys are supposed to beat Bumgarner? Well, as we learned last year, these Mets are good. Fangraphs is FIP-based, so Noah Syndergaard’s 218 strikeouts against 43 walks make him look like a pretty good option in an all-or-nothing game. New York has the better bullpen and a better offense (through these two teams hold the bottom two spots in offensive Playoff Runs). Home field advantage won’t hurt either.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

I’m not sure any quantitative model would have predicted any of the three championships the Giants have won over the past six years. This tends to be the position they find themselves in when they start catching breaks and sneaking past better teams. If I knew how to assign points to Bruce Bochy, I’d give him some. The model also gives no credit to Bumgarner’s bat, which is certainly worth more than nothing.

American League Division Series

Blue Jays (13.84) over Rangers (11.92)

Why the Blue Jays Win this Simulation

The only thing the Rangers do well is win. That may seem like an excellent formula for playoff success, but based on the underlying results, this team should have been closer to .500 than the top seed in the AL. If they hadn’t added Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline, they would be by far the worst contender by Playoff Runs, but that improved offense is enough for them to squeak past the Orioles. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays hit better, pitch better, and play better defense than Texas.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

Like the Orioles, the Rangers tend to find a way to win. The model doesn’t love Cole Hamels because he walked a batter every other inning all year, but he prevented runs at an elite level and the lineup behind him is legitimate. There’s little chance this one matches the intensity of last year’s battle, but it’s likely to be close.

Red Sox (16.24) over Indians (12.55)

Why the Red Sox Win this Simulation

This was a truly great Indians team. Unfortunately, Playoff Runs doesn’t see it as a great team now. Carlos Carrasco and Yan Gomes are out, Corey Kluber isn’t likely to be ready for Game 1, and Danny Salazar is hoping to pitch a few innings out of the bullpen. Cleveland has the third-best offense among playoff teams, but they’re playing the team with the best offense by a crazy margin. Boston also has far better starting pitching and scores well on defense and in the bullpen.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

Craig Kimbrel has completely lost the plate over the past week, and Boston’s strong bullpen is far less formidable if he’s not throwing strikes. Kluber could come back to pitch games two and five, while Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz are question marks in Boston’s rotation. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen will make Terry Francona more comfortable in the late innings than he would be if he were still managing the Red Sox. This series won’t be the blowout the numbers suggest.

National League Division Series

Cubs (18.21) over Mets (13.24)

Why the Cubs Win this Simulation

The Mets are good, but they’re nowhere near Cub-caliber. Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Kyle Hendricks are all among the best run-preventers in Major League Baseball, whether on their own merits or thanks to Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, and company on the field behind them. Chicago’s defense scores more than twice as many Playoff Runs as any other team still playing. Their offense, paced by likely unanimous MVP Kris Bryant, tops that of everyone but the Red Sox. The only weakness this team has is the letter on their caps.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

That letter on the Cubs’ caps doesn’t stand for championship. And their opponent is certain to be either the team that swept them out of the playoffs last year or the team that always wins the World Series in even years. The scariest phrase to a Cubs fan right now is probably “anything can happen in baseball”.

Dodgers (17.90) over Nationals (13.33)

Why the Dodgers Win this Simulation

Like the Cubs, these Dodgers do everything well. The best pitchers in the playoffs by Runs Above Replacement per inning pitched are Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Zach Britton, and Rich Hill. You may have noticed that half of them wear Dodger blue. Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Justin Turner pace the fourth-best offense left standing, while Seager, Turner, and two good catchers lead the third-best defense.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

Max Scherzer may win the NL Cy Young award and Tanner Roark is right on his heels. If Stephen Strasburg can come back (the model considers him the fourth starter, giving him only three innings pitched in the series), this team can pitch with LA, who will depend on more health from Kershaw and Hill than they got all year. Trea Turner has emerged as a young star, and Bryce Harper’s 2016 numbers probably sell short his ability to dominate a playoff series.

American League Championship Series

Red Sox (22.51) over Blue Jays (19.02)

Why the Red Sox Win this Simulation

Boston’s offense is enough to carry them past just about anyone. They play excellent defense, particularly in the outfield, and Rick Porcello and David Price form a formidable one-two punch in the rotation. As much power as the middle of Toronto’s lineup packs, Boston’s is just relentless, with Sandy Leon, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Andrew Benintendi forming the best bottom three in the playoffs by far.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

Again, Boston’s bullpen will have to stare down three great hitters and survive Toronto’s own offensive attack. Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ, and Marcus Stroman form the deepest rotation on the AL side of the playoffs. The matchups in Games 3 and 4 in Toronto would likely favor the Jays.

National League Championship Series

Cubs (25.10) over Dodgers (24.73)

Why the Cubs Win this Simulation

Last year, the one surprise revealed by this model was that the Mets might have had the best team in the playoffs. If there’s a surprise this year, it’s that the Dodgers are this close to the Cubs. Kershaw, Hill, and Kenta Maeda would be a handful for any team, and the Dodger bats will be a tall order for the Cubs’ pitching and defense. But the model still prefers the Cubs by a hair, due entirely to their otherworldly defense. In reality, this would be an incredibly fun NLCS, with two great rotations and lights-out closers trying to lead their respective teams to the World Series for the first time in 28 or 71 years.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider
Immense emotional gravity could pull this series out of the spreadsheets and reward the iron will of whatever team doesn’t crack under intense pressure. By Playoff Runs, this is the closest matchup of all the series I’m predicting, capable of swinging on one slider just off the corner that the ump calls a strike or one ball that kicks up the tiniest bit of chalk down the left field line. Of course, if Kershaw and Hill aren’t healthy, it might just be a Cubs sweep, leading us to some more emotional gravity in the form of…

World Series

Cubs (25.10) over Red Sox (22.51)

Why the Cubs Win this Simulation

I wonder how many times pundits have predicted this World Series since the matchup last happened in 1918. The storylines would be endless: the team mired in a 108-year title drought against the team that broke an 86-year drought only to try for their fourth in 12 years. Theo Epstein, Jon Lester, John Lackey, David Ross, Anthony Rizzo (kind of), and throngs of former Orioles, Yankees, and Rays coming home to Fenway. Two wild fanbases in two ancient stadiums. The top-flight pitching and defense of the Cubs against the relentless offensive attack of the Red Sox…

But it’s not that simple. The Cubs can pitch and field, but they can hit too. They’ll have more confidence in Aroldis Chapman closing out games than Boston will in Kimbrel, the 2010-2014 version of Chapman. Chicago has the depth to crush Boston’s righties and lefties alike, and Jorge Soler (or Rizzo or Bryant or Ben Zobrist) will slot in at designated hitter without making the Cubs feel offensively disadvantaged at Fenway. It’s the Cubs’ year; everyone else is just along for the ride.

What the Model Doesn’t Consider

Randomness rules baseball far more than talent or drive or momentum. Just as the Red Sox would have at least a 40% chance to win this series despite the talent gap, this series is almost as likely to pit the Blue Jays against the Dodgers or the Giants against the Orioles. If you’re a Cubs fan, you just watched your team win 103 games and show ample evidence that it’s the team most likely to win the World Series. But “most likely” is something like a 20 to 25% chance. That’s baseball.

Let’s close with the ten playoff teams ranked by their aggregate Playoff Runs over a best-of-seven series:

1. Cubs (3rd in pitching, 1st in fielding, 2nd in hitting)

2. Dodgers (1st in pitching, 3rd in fielding, 4th in hitting)

3. Red Sox (7th in pitching, 4th in fielding, 1st in hitting)

4. Blue Jays (5th in pitching, 5th in fielding, 5th in hitting)

5. Nationals (4th in pitching, 9th in fielding, 6th in hitting)

6. Mets (2nd in pitching, 10th in fielding, 9th in hitting)

7. Giants (6th in pitching, 2nd in fielding, 10th in hitting)

8. Indians (10th in pitching, 6th in fielding, 3rd in hitting)

9. Rangers (8th in pitching, 7th in fielding, 7th in hitting)

10. Orioles (9th in pitching, 8th in fielding, 8th in hitting)

Click here for the companion piece, with player-level detail for every team at every position.

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